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ExoMars space orbiter witnesses 'dust devil frenzy' on Mars

The spacecraft shares a bizarre view of Martian whirlwinds.

This "dust devil frenzy" left a mark on Mars.

ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

Sometimes, Mars looks like a familiar desert landscape. Other times, it reminds us it's an alien planet. New images from the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter show the Red Planet in all its exotic glory.

One image in particular looks like a hairy creature stretching long legs across the surface on Mars. The color-composite image shows what ESA describes as a "dust devil frenzy." In actual color, the streaks would look dark red. The wild pattern is likely the result of hundreds or thousands of small dust devils scouring the landscape.

The ExoMars Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (Cassis) also pulled off the tricky feat of snapping an image of NASA's InSight lander. 

The ExoMars spacecraft snapped a look at NASA's InSight lander on Mars.

ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

An annotated version of the image points out the lander, blast marks from the late-2018 landing, the heat shield and the backshell and parachute. "It is the first time a European instrument has identified a lander and related equipment on the Red Planet," ESA says.

The InSight image gives the ExoMars team confidence Cassis will be able to document the upcoming ExoMars rover mission, scheduled to launch in mid-2020.

The ExoMars orbiter has been in residence at Mars since late 2016. Besides capturing images of the Mars surface, the orbiter is also investigating atmospheric gases and helping to relay data from InSight back to Earth.

ExoMars has turned out to be a perfect companion to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which also has a fondness for photographing dust devils.